Format Agnostic Photography. In defense of almost all sensor sizes.

Image from Eeyore's Birthday Party, 2017. ©2017 Kirk Tuck.

I've been playing with the Nikon D2Xs for the last few days---in between shooting real stuff with my GH5 cameras--- and today was no different. I decided to continue my sentimental reattachment to big, fat, old school cameras by venturing out with the Nikon and a 50mm f1.8, just to see how it might affect my image making process. My head was filled with optimistic memories of my original time with the D2Xs and I was out to see if my good memories were more a result of that camera being about as good as you could get at that point in history, and my ability to accommodate its foibles, or, if it was really a wonderful photo instrument.

The body is certainly more solid than the mirrorless Sony cameras I had been shooting with until recently but the GH5 cameras give up nothing to the Nikon in that regard.

I decided to park at ZACH Theatre, which is just across the river from downtown proper. I would walk across the small campus and head over to my usual walking route via the pedestrian bridge. Since I was at the theatre at the right time I followed the groups of people as they entered the lobby in anticipation of the afternoon matinee of, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Park in the Night Time."

I stopped in to see who might be playing piano in the lobby bar and to take a look around to see if the life-size posters marketing the upcoming shows had been put up yet. I always like to see how my work is used and how it looks in print. Especially large print.

There are four new, life-size, printed posters up. Two are from the same shoot. That was an assignment I did using the RX10iii and the Panasonic FZ2500. One image is for "Beauty and the Beast" --- it's an elegant photograph of Leslie Anne Leal as "Belle" holding a red rose out in front of her gold dress. She, of course, looks adorable but the surprise is just how good the image looks, technically,  from as close as a three or four feet away. The colors are right on the money and the details are crisp without looking crunchy. Uncropped, the entire frame would be about 4x6 feet. I thought it was a pretty convincing result from a camera with a sensor the size of a thumbnail. I was almost certain it was made with the Sony but I went back and checked and saw that it was done with the Panasonic.

Just a bit further across the lobby was a photograph of an actor in the character of the artist, George Seurat, for the upcoming production of Stephen Sondheim's play, "Sunday in the Park with George." This poster was printed the same size as the Beauty and the Beast poster but it started life as a file in a Sony A7R-ii. While the file was different there were few clues (probably only apparent to me) that the images were shot with different cameras. The posters are classic point-of-puchase-style collateral and they are designed and produced to be seen up close. I will say one thing for consistent practice of technique and that is that you have a much better chance of the final color matching across projects and from various cameras.... if you do the technical stuff by the numbers.

The final image I looked at was from one of our earlier marketing shoots for the current main stage production; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Park at Night Time. I made those photographs using dim stage lighting and a couple of battery powered LED panels with the Panasonic GH5 and its friend, the Olympus 12-100mm f4.0 Pro series lens. While it was done in a different overall style from the other two posters, and it was presented as a horizontal (a pick-up from the advertising campaign) it still maintained the same overall look and feel of the other two posters.

Seeing this work, across three formats, presented in the same space and for the same client, was a very interesting experience. If I had seen only the Beauty and the Beast poster alone I would have worried that it might suffer by comparison with posters made with other format size cameras and I would have beaten myself up for allowing my own hubris to move me into selecting what many would characterize as the "wrong camera" for this kind of work. Same with the GH5 generated poster. But seeing them all in the same space and being able to approach each of them at the same viewing distance I was impressed to see just how well the smaller formats actually performed.

The realization that the camera is less important to the overall process than things like good (and ample) lighting, the use of a nice tripod, good technical approaches to white balance and exposure, and a good stage-side manner all seem to me to be much more important than the sensor dimensions of the imaging device.

All of this took the wind out of my sails as far as my imagined appreciation for the vintage Nikon camera went. I decided to continue the walk anyway and trudged on making only five or six unimaginative and boring photographs (which I will not share). That's fine with me. Not every day can be successful for photography. But the walk was much needed. I was looking forward to this morning's swim practice but when we'd gotten about 45 minutes into it we got lots of thunder and meteorological excitement ( one swimmer said, "I didn't see any thunder...") and we had to clear the pool a half an hour early. Nothing worse than a truncated swim practice after a long and emotionally draining week. A couple hours of walking, with or without a camera, is a great way to clear out the cobwebs and get back into a good groove.

Thinking of returning the camera and continuing my concentration on the micro-four-thirds cameras and the marvelous range of lenses available for them. Seems like a more fun way to make photographs.


  1. Kirk, please explain to this amateur what "crisp without looking crunchy" means?

  2. Hi Mike, You know how sometimes you blow up files that have less resolution than you thought they should have and so you up-rez them in PhotoShop but they don't look exactly sharp on your screen at 100% so you sharpen them up until they look SHARP on your screen and then you hand them off to a printer and they blow them up and sharpen them a bit more? And then the edges look hard and fake. Crisp is where you stopped before this happened and just gave the printer nice, detailed files. Crisp looks sharp. Crunchy looks overdone.

    It's almost like toast. Middle brown is great. Slightly darker is okay but just a little burnt sucks.

    Or when you play music loud on a good stereo and it's loud but sounds real. Then you play it loud on a crappy system and it sounds painful and.....crunchy.

  3. Ah! The Goldilocks and the Three Bears metaphor. I get it. Thanks.

  4. Greetings Kirk
    I'd like to see how the D2x compares to the M4/3 cameras, just for fun. Why not keep the D2x for your Nikon lenses, and something different to play with?


  5. I think it does comedown to the lighting and white balance. The older cameras pre 2010, really were affected by using the wrong white balance, it would also affect the exposure.
    On to lightning I remember watching a video of some iphone vs whatever. Then looking and think yes with $50000 of lightning equipment that cheaper phone does look good. Problem is no one watching to grab the phone will have those lights.

  6. The revelation happened for me when I saw files from my GH3 printed 20 feet wide from a horizontal image of a person playing guitar outside. At that size I can clearly see the windings on the guitar strings, the striations of his blue jeans, and his eyelashes as clear as day. This was in 2013. I was terrified of how they were going to look before I actually saw them, thinking that I had made a mistake by downsizing my sensor. I was dead wrong.

    I still marvel at the 8x10 foot theater poster shot during a dress rehearsal of 42nd Street, tap dancers going a mile a minute, shot at iso 3200 to accommodate a high enough shutter speed to stop them in their tracks. It’s got grain, but geez it looks great, if I say so myself.

    Size is no longer an issue, at least with camera sensors.

  7. I was struck by your comment about good light and smaller sensors creating great images. I picked up a Nikon 1 V1 during the fire sale and remember pairing it with a Nikon 70-300 VR2. I was out shooting Birds and got a Texas Blue Jay well lit, with no cropping, low ISO, and F-stop somewhere around F5.6. The image came out great! It was established by a monopod. What worked was all the basics were optimized including the light and the image came out great.

  8. A useful exercise in combatting format-itis is to go through your old slides. I've been going through about 30 years of them, all neatly stored away, good or bad, because I can't throw them out for some reason. Most are technically bad.
    I did the first step a few years ago and scanned those that I thought were the best of the bunch, but didn't throw out the others, because, you know, they might be good for filler in slide shows. Haven't put on one of those for over a decade.
    What strikes me is just how BAD the best slide films of the era were - how skilled a photographer you needed to be to work with their limited DR and hypercontrast - and how inexperienced I was. My first digital point and shoots were awful, too, but when I bought a D80 in 2006 most of those limitations went away. Its performance is exceeded nicely by today's u4/3 cameras.
    Yet still I hang on to my fire-breathing rip-snorting technowhiz D7100 - certainly not for image quality reasons. It must be threefold - I'm still scared of anything but DSLR PDAF, I'm cheap (decent sunk costs in lenses and accessories, and hooboy do those pro Oly lenses cost), and, frankly, I'm more comfortable with Nikon's UI than anything else I've tried.

    Maybe a Nikon mirrorless will dislodge me from my fencepost. Or maybe, I'll just pack a pocketcam and leave all of the deeper craft of the art to others with talent. Photography should be fun.

  9. Hi Kirk,

    I'm off on a canoe trip this summer on Bankes Island in the Arctic and have been struggling with choosing a camera to take along. There will be 24 hours of daylight, so low light shooting is not required. We may see wildlife like muskox, foxes and polar bears, but probably not close up, so a long lens is needed. I've been thinking of a superzoom from Panasonic or Nikon and was very encouraged by your experience with the Panny fz2500. Do you think the image quality from a 1 inch sensor would make nice prints up to 14x21?


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